Democratic Differences

Those who grew up abroad share insights into U.S. election

By: Lucia Verzola

Staff Writer

 Much of the world waits in anticipation for the counting of the votes to determine the next president of the United States. The ability to vote in a free and fair election is recognized as a privilege by many people from outside of the United States. USF community members from various countries reflected on the U.S.’s 2020 general election from their perspectives as immigrants and visitors to this country.  

 Roberto Gutiérrez Varea, director of USF’s Latin American Studies Program, was a teenager in 1976 when a U.S.-backed right-wing military dictatorship controlled his home country of Argentina. He witnessed many young people affected by the violence of the authoritarian government. “I feel that this election is critical, because I have been very disturbed by seeing a country where I sought refuge actually behaving like the authoritarian regimes that I was under in my youth,” he said. For Varea, seeing the U.S. military gassing peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in D.C. and unmarked federal agents plucking young protesters off the streets and shoving them into vans in Portland, Ore. were reminiscent of the Argentinian military squads that “disappeared” college students from the streets of Cordoba. Having survived that horrible time in Argentina, Varea recognizes voting as a sacred rite because it has been earned through blood and suffering.

Zoe Binder, a USF sophomore, was born and raised in Germany and has dual U.S. citizenship because her mother was born in the U.S. Similarly to here, there has been a rise in right-wing politics in Germany, tpp. However, according to Binder, the checks and balances of the German political system make it unlikely for a radical leader to be elected as chancellor, Germany’s highest office. The chancellor is chosen from the most popular political party, which often results in coalitions of parties forming to support a candidate in parliament. Because of her identity, a positive German and American relationship is very important to Binder. But, since the start of the Trump era, she has seen the two countries’ relationship sour. “I grew up with the sentiment that German-American friendship is a really important historical bind that we have,” she said. “We need to be mutually helping each other out, as America has done for Germany in the past and vice versa. But all ties seem to have been cut since the Trump era. It’s sad to see how relationships have been falling apart across the world.”

Edwin Wang, a junior, moved to San Francisco from Shan Dong, China to attend USF in 2018. Wang said the idea of a country’s citizens being able to choose their leader still amazes him. China’s leader, the chairman, is elected by the National People’s Congress, a legislature made up of approximately 3000 dignitaries in a country of 1.4 billion people. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, Wang could not vote in this election, but said, “I would love to participate in a U.S. election if I have this chance in the future.”

Louise Zheng is a junior from Saipan, a U.S. territory that is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands. Saipan is ruled by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and has an elected governor and one U.S. Congressional representative. Saipan’s residents are U.S. citizens, but they are unable to vote for the U.S. president from Saipan. Because she is living in California, however, Zheng did get to vote in the election. She said, “[It] feels really good and holds a lot more weight for me because I feel like I’m voting for my friends and family as well.” 

 Music professor Alexandra Amati was born in Boston and raised by her parents who fled Argentina by way of Italy. Amati has dual-citizenship in the U.S. and Italy. She never experienced an authoritarian government, but grew up in Italy heavily involved in politics. Amati often organized and worked in rallies and has been tear-gassed and arrested while protesting.  Though Italians vote for the parliament and both houses, they are unable to vote for the president, who is chosen by parliament. “I was always taught that voting was a right and a privilege, but also a duty,” Amati said. “It is very important, and one has no right to complain unless one takes part in the democratic process.”

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